The Next Right Thing

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If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that I created it with little enthusiasm back, oh, nine years ago, when the People Who Know Such Things convinced me that I, as an Author, needed a Platform.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy blogging. Especially since “Wing’s World” has remained fairly untethered to theme. What’s not to love when you can blog one week about kale salad, and the next about how many times you’ve run around Planet Earth? As a writer, I did try to steer clear of two topics: writing about writing—boooooring—and politics: divisive.

Then an unfunny thing happened: the last four years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward topics of justice that need addressing, and increasingly uncomfortable blogging with my usual whimsy. While I appreciate lightheartedness in the writing of others, for myself it feels too much like fiddling while Rome burns.

But who needs more blog posts about everything that’s dire? And so I respond with…silence. My posting has gone from a robust twice-weekly clip to weekly…to biweekly…to whenever the hell I feel like it. And I haven’t felt like it.

(photo by rbaez, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Can I get an “Amen”?

Then on a walk the other day, doing my Mary-Oliver-best to let the wild wind and whitecaps and dripping mosses capture all of me, I thought back to a podcast I’d just heard, which reminded me of a hackneyed but super useful concept I learned back in the 90’s. That concept: the Circle of Control from good ol’ Stephen Covey—remember the 7 Habits guy?

[Copyright Stephen Covey]

EVERYONE should be able to relate to this. Life feeling out of control? Too much, too fast, too hard? Well…what are you in charge of? Eating a healthy breakfast? Reading a book to a child? Do that. Start there.

Now that I think about it, it’s quite similar, in fact, to the Serenity Prayer. Probably smarter people than I have already noted this.

You know: this. (image courtesy Etsy.com)

Anyway, that podcast which started this train of thought? An episode of NPR’s Invisibilia featured an extraordinary woman in Scotland, Joy Milne, who discovered she has the superpower of being able to smell diseases in people. Terminal diseases. Which means she can meet someone and know how close to death they may be—even if they don’t know it themselves. Which means she can, in a way, see the future…without being able to control it. 

Talk about “too much”!

Along her journey of discovery—that is, science discovering this woman and putting her power to use—Joy befriended another woman, suffering from Parkinson’s, whose mantra for living with her disease seems to be actually defeating it. This woman says that, in the face of terminal out-of-controlness, she simply tries to “do the next right thing.”

I like that phrase even better than “Circle of Control.” It’s more humble, more tender, more…real.

Throughout most of 2020 (or COVIDCOVID if you prefer), my “next right things” included working on my book, and working to help save America from Donald Trump. [Pictured: my phonebank tallies. Including the calls for the Georgia runoff (which already feels like a year ago), I made approximately 3,000 calls.]

Since that time, conditions in our country and our world feel more out of control than ever–all the more so from having spun away just in the budding of hope. My back pain is not improving. And my writing project is stalled (yes, I WILL write about that when I am able).

In short, I need some new, modest enterprises to function as Serenity Prayer. So here are three:

–a local online tutoring project for kids in our community

–a phone-calling and letter-writing campaign to shut down private prisons in Washington State

–training our new big, overly-enthusiastic dog

Who, me?

Are these projects blogworthy? We’ll see. Of course they’re wildly divergent in scope and tenor. But they do have one thing in common: for me, in 2021’s crazy start, they all feel like the next right thing.

And what is yours? Please share.

Working On Our Core: the Search for America’s Hidden Abdominals

As a woman who’s included “runner” as part of her identity since 1967 (true story), I’ve only recently joined the ranks of those smarter humans who treat their body as an entire vehicle, paying attention to all the parts–not just the ones that make me run faster.

Oh, 2013, I miss you so much. Those days are NOT coming back. (photo by Barb Mondloch)

I’m talking core. As in, that middle part of me that is apparently my secret weapon against the back pain that’s been messing with my routine. That part the rest of y’all have probably all been working on all this time, rolling your eyes at me for taking my body for granted. (Oh, sorry–that’s the Mate who does that, not you. Probably.)

Trying to remember the name of the muscles I’m engaging here.

Anyway, all this lying-on-the-floor-trying-to-get-in-touch-with-muscles-I’ve-never-heard-of stuff has me thinking about our country. Because, like “runner,” another identity I’ve taken for granted my entire life is “American.” And lately that identity, like the disc in my lower back, has started to fray, sending shocks of pain throughout my spirit.

Is this who we are? A nation of separate realities, separate truths? Is this 2020, or 1860?

You don’t need me to say more. You know what I mean. And you have probably been doing the same kind of wondering: where is that secret, hidden muscle we need to work, the one that binds us, keeps our body politic from falling apart?

Am I heading in the right direction? Reaching for the right solution?

I want to say that muscle is simply compassion–but how simple is compassion? In these days when each tribe thinks the other wants to destroy it? Can I make myself wish the best for, oh, I don’t know, a Michael Flynn, who urges a do-over of our entire election, or a Kelly Loeffler, who refuses even to acknowledge that’s what her leadership wants? Can I wish compassion for Trump or for people who scream his name without masks?

As I write this, I can hear John Lewis’s voice in my head:

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.” (from Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America)

I know, Congressman. I know. But it’s so HARD.

What “exercises” are you trying to strengthen your commitment to a “more perfect Union” in these fraught months? I would love to add them to my new routine.

Ironman, Shmironman: New Zealand’s Coast to Coast World Multisport Championship

This is THE weekend. As I’m writing this, the countdown clock for the start of the Coast to Coast is down to 2 hours something. It starts on Friday, Feb. 7. Today is Thursday, Feb. 6. So it starts in two hours–how??? Oh yeah–New Zealand time. Already tomorrow there. No wonder those buggers are so quick.

Photo by Diversions.nz

Actually, the race that starts Friday is the “easy” race: competitors take TWO days to race across the skinny part of NZ’s South Island, from Coast to Coast, on foot, bicycle, and kayak. And by “easy” I mean “less insane.” Here’s the C2C’s own description of the race course:

Competitors leave on foot from the black sands and lush windswept landscapes on the West Coast, running 2.2km inland to their waiting bikes. They then follow the Taramakau River 50km to the foothills of the Southern Alps where they switch their bikes for runners and the first true test of the course.

Photo by Eventfinda.nz

The 30.5km run is mainly off trail with the rocky riverbed often the only direct line up the valley. Competitors encounter multiple river crossings with frigid crystal clear water and an elevation gain of nearly 800m on their way to Goat Pass and the start of the descent.

Photo by NZ Herald

With the very fastest athletes taking nearly 3 hours the run is as much a test of co-ordination and strength as it is outright speed.
A short 15km ride follows before the second jewel in the course. The mighty Waimakariri River. 70kms of braids and a stunning gorge, the river section is for many both the highlight and the crux of the race. The water flows swiftly in places and mixes long calm sections with rapids up to grade 2 in size.

The racer I followed in 2017, Josie, finishing the 70k kayak portion (my photo)

It takes competitors from the heart of the Southern Alps out on to the Canterbury Plains where just one final 70km ride stands between competitors and the finish on the East Coast at the New Brighton Pier amongst a vibrant beachside festival.

Map by NZTourismGuide.nz

Got that? Run to ride to run to ride to paddle to ride. For a total of 238 kilometers. That’s over 147 miles. The actual World Multisport Championship part of the C2C doesn’t start till Saturday–at 0:dark-thirty. That’s the race they call The Longest Day. And you can guess why.

I first learned about this race when my family and I spent a year in New Zealand, back in the 1990s. I came to see multisport racing in general, and the Coast to Coast in particular, as emblematic of the Kiwi approach both to sport and to life. (Notice how much those two are entwined? Yeah, all those cliche-spouting coaches are pretty much right.)

Which is why the novel I’m writing is set in NZ, and features a race much like the C2C. And why my heart is now with the athlete who let me “ride along” with her crew, back in 2017, so I could see and feel the race up close. You can read that story here.

What, you thought I was going to DO the Longest Day? Do I seem that crazy tough athletic to you? (If yes, ummm…thanks? But no thanks!)

In 2017, Josie, the athlete I followed–a mum with two daughters–finished the Longest Day in just over 15 hours, fourth woman! This year, Josie’s going for it again! Over the course of her Saturday, our Friday, I’ll be checking in with the course-tracker app to follow her progress up and over the mountains, through dark of night, fording crystalline streams…

…Sorry. Easy to get carried away. I’ll just stop here with: Go, you crazy racers! GO JOSIE!

Now back to my nice, comfy laptop…

Josie’s finish in 2017. Have a beer! (Photo by C2C.nz)

Road Trip IX, Days 33-37, Kentucky to Kansas: Bluff Buffs, Sharing Our Love of Sandstone

Since this is Road Trip #9, you can imagine how many times The Mate and I have crossed Kansas. But Kentucky, not so much. We’ve generally passed either above or below it; the big interstates make it fairly easy to miss. But this year we went to eastern Kentucky, on purpose, for two reasons.

Reason #1: St. Patrick’s Day was our 40th anniversary, and we wanted a pretty place to spend the night, plus a kitchen for me to make the Reuben sandwiches we’ve been eating together ever since March 17, 1979.

Thus: Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Ooooh.

Pretty place with kitchen: check.

Reubens: check. (Roasted Brussels sprouts weren’t a thing 40 years ago…but they are now!)

I’ll be honest: the culture of eastern Kentucky makes me uncomfortable. In these polarized times, it’s hard not to imagine people looking askance at our scruffy Subaru, and The Mate’s ponytail. It’s hard not to wonder how we’d be received if we were a gay couple, or people of color. I also imagine what they’d think of me, a middle-aged lady acting like an early retiree, eating my hummus-arugula sandwich…a left-coast, REI-wearing, Subaru-driving Ivy Leaguer…

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much CNN, or reading too much US history, but that polarization is real

So it was a sweet relief to get up into those lovely trails and find people…enjoying the same beauty I was enjoying.

Ooh!

The Natural Bridge itself is very cool…

…whether from above…

…or from a distance

…but it’s only part of the sandstone sculpture on display. There’s also balanced Rock…

Rock: check. Balancing: check.

Lovers’ Leap…

Those teeny-tiny tents down there tell you how high up this is. Leapin’ Lovers!

…and then just the stone itself. I couldn’t get enough.

So…pretty!!!! I can’t stand it.

All the trails are concentrated in a small area, so I imagine during high season it must be pretty crowded. But in March, meeting handfuls of other tourists was just nice. Everyone up there had walked steep trails for the sake of scenery: my people!

Reason #2 for our Kentucky dalliance was two sets of old friends, not seen for over a decade. The first lives in Louisville, where I didn’t take any pictures, but we did ride our top-favorite bike path, the Louisville Loop, so here’s a picture from last year.

Coolest bike path ever! You go, Louisville!

The second was in Land Between the Lakes, near Kentucky’s western tip. We met our friend for a day hike, then spent another night in a very pleasant cabin. (Could we have camped? Yes. It only got down to freezing that night. I wimped out. No excuses.)

“Hey, it’s nice and warm in here.”

No sandstone here, but we did enjoy a lovely lakeside walk…

No sandstone? No problem.

which treated us to some splendid little crowds of turtles.

Yes! Spring’s a-comin!

And just as before, meeting fellow walkers in the woods did my conflicted soul as much good as reuniting with an old friend.

From Kentucky we headed across Missouri, another non-Subaru state. There, we visited another section of the amazing Katy Trail, a 200+-mile rail-trail that stretches nearly the entire length of the state.

And such a cute name too.

Our section follows the Missouri River, thus…bluffs!

Ahhh…

Otters wallowed in the powerful current. Cliff swallows attended their nests. Signs alerted us to Lewis and Clark’s one-time camping ground.

Mud nests. Not pictured: otters, and Lewis & Clark.

Because it was the middle of a work week, we met very few souls out on the Katy. But just knowing it was there, knowing that citizens of Missouri support this…

You can see I-70 crossing the Mighty Mo in the background

and this…

Free air for your tires and everything!

…gave me those warm fuzzies about my fellow Americans that I so badly need.

Next day, we had one more sandstone encounter, this time in Kansas. Most of what you see of Kansas from the interstate is fields (pretty unimpressive this time of year), but as you might expect, a few miles off the big roads yields great results. In this case: Wilson Lake State Park.

I mean, it’s not a wheat field, but it’ll do.

And guess what: sandstone bluffs again!

Hey, buddy!

Once again, our privileged status, on vacation in the middle of March, gave us the park to ourselves. And the solitude of my walk set me thinking.

The real stuff, the good stuff, what we share as fellow Americans–love of our land, our families, and our freedom to enjoy both–that’s our bedrock. Like sandstone, it has accrued over time, all the time warped and eroded by pressures like economic need and religious mandate. Sometimes it’s just covered up by ugly growth.

Something like this

So I hope and pray that this period we’re living through now is one of those temporary times–a period of ugliness from which our bedrock may emerge. I pray the rock isn’t riven straight down to its core. Let those bluffs hold.

Road Trip IX, Days 27-32, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.: Country Roads, Make Me Run

I’ve written before about my father’s passion for distance running, and the way that passion shaped our family. Nothing like being back on the “old home place” for a week to bring back powerful memories of my baptism and rearing in the Church of the Holy Workout.

See, once my dad learned, in the mid-sixties, about the long-term health effects of distance running, I think he must have settled on the logic that, quod erat demonstrandum, NOT running would probably kill you quickly.

My dad, at 88 and a half, on his bike–he finally switched to an electric wheel a few years ago

At least that’s how it seemed to my 8 year-old self back in 1970. My sisters and I were, ahem, encouraged to run one mile a day, and three on Sundays. Most of that running involved the country roads near our house—some recently paved, some dirt.

But quite a lot involved the vehicle-free gravel roads of Duke Forest, maintained by Duke University’s School of Forestry (which I admire and love equally as much as I despise and loathe its men’s basketball team 🙂 ).The scenery was pretty. And the hills were STEEP.

Every year since we moved away in 1990, I go back to those forest roads, thinking, “they can’t really be as steep as I remember them.” And every time I rediscover—oh. Yep. They are.

Hard Climb Hill–putting the “mont” in Piedmont

The jury’s out, in my opinion, on whether making running mandatory for your children is a good idea or not. As it happens, I still run, thought I’ll never know if that’s despite, or because of being thrown into the deep end of the track (to mix sports metaphors). But since I’m lucky enough to have grown up entirely in the same house, it’s pretty cool to imagine how many miles I’ve logged over the years on those humble paved and unpaved roads.

I imagine Atticus Finch musing, “You never really understand a place until you consider things from its country roads…until you pull on your running shoes and run a few thousand miles around its hills.”

I’d show an even steeper hill, but I didn’t feel like wading across New Hope Creek

Or spot its wildflowers. I can’t complete a description of my childhood running routes without celebrating the subtle wildflowers of its woods in early spring.

Like the Trout Lily. Spot one…and suddenly they’re everywhere!

About as showy as they get…hiding in some invasive periwinkle leaves

Bluets, or Quaker Ladies. These always reminded me of my mom.

And while we’re at it…all praises be to good ol’ New Hope Creek itself. Humbly beautiful, and quite shockingly free of garbage considering it’s right smack in the middle of the Hillsborough/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle.

Thanks for all the miles I’ve run past you while you were running past me!

I find myself wondering…what versions of my country roads do y’all share? What routes, walked or run or skated over a million times, make up the soul of YOUR childhood?

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Marathoners: Whoops, Too Late

I’m a child of marathon runners, and a distance runner myself. But I have managed to keep the marathon bug at bay my whole life–even the half-marathon! Without going into detail, let’s just say I watched my parents train and race enough to decide, at a young age, that this marathon thing did NOT look like fun.

My folks, in the 1970s, finishing a Ride and Tie—a kind of cross-country marathon with horses, and mountains. (Only the finish looked fun to me!)

The Mate’s and my sons are the children of non-marathoning distance runners. And we thought that they had inherited that particular set of genes. But we thought wrong. This coming weekend, Son Two will run his first marathon, at age 26. Apparently marathoning can skip generations. (Thanks, Mom & Dad.)

Son Two finishing a 5k a few years ago

Actually, I’m fine with the whole thing. Son Two is, admittedly, a tad under-trained, but he’s smart enough to take it easy and even quit at the threat of injury. I also admire the way he got into the race: not the usual “I must test myself” stuff, but “yeah, a friend asked me to keep him company, so I said yes.” And honestly? I’m a little bit proud of the family tradition asserting itself after all.

Not only were my parents marathoners, my mom in particular was a very GOOD one. In the 1970s, when the running craze first peaked, she set a national age-group record at 39. And therein lies a tale.

See, Mom chose the Buffalo to Niagara Marathon as her first–can’t remember why; maybe its lack of giant hills. Because Niagara Falls used to be considered the classic honeymoon spot, and because honeymoons USED to be when nice young women lost their virginity, she was struck with the parallel between running one’s first marathon and…you know. So she wrote a little story about it and sent it to Runner’s World.

Would you believe they thought it was too risqué? (Can’t believe those editors missed the chance to call it “too racy.”) So it never got published (except by my folk’s local track club)…

…until now. Without further ado, in honor of marathoners and women everywhere, I present “Honeymoon At Niagara,” by Martha Klopfer:

They stood together by the railing and gazed at the falls. Entranced at the swirling ropes of falling water, she wondered how such continual motion could resolve itself into something so constant, so beautiful. She raised her eyes to his and he smiled and squeezed her hand. Softly her mind shifted from the mystery of Niagara Falls to that other mystery she was soon to encounter. She was aware of prickles of nervousness and wished she could shrug them off. It wasn’t that she was afraid or thought that she wasn’t ready. In fact, she had gone pretty far already, even if she hadn’t yet gone all the way. It was just that you couldn’t really know what it was like until you had done it.

She leaned closer against him and took comfort from his strength. It was easier for him because he had done it before, and besides, he was a man. What was she worrying about, anyway? Certainly, she had read enough about it. She knew all about the importance of timing, and things like that. He had told her that he had trouble holding himself back long enough, but she didn’t think she’d have that problem. She was more worried about just finishing. No! She didn’t want to start thinking about the mechanics now. The most important thing was to relax. After all, one was supposed to enjoy it.

She shivered in spite of herself, and he put his arm around her and suggested that they go back to the motel. This would not be the time to catch a cold, would it? She heard the nervousness in his laugh and felt a rush of love tinged with amusement. His prior experience didn’t make him immune to the jitters either!

At dinner it was even more obvious to her that he was as nervous as she was. They talked about all sorts of unrelated things, but he was playing with his spaghetti more than eating it. Their half-filled plates were carried away. No doubt the waiter was used to that in Niagara Falls, she thought. It amused her, knowing what hearty appetites they usually had.

Back in their own motel room, they quickly got ready for bed. She suggested watching TV for awhile, because it really was so early. She was glad enough to snuggle against him in bed, but she still sought the distraction of their electronic companion. Was she really ready, she wondered?

Then, firmly decisive, he reached over and turned out the TV and the light. Tenderly he kissed her, then said goodnight, and rolled over. They should both try to get a good night’s sleep before the Marathon tomorrow.

Note: She was 4th of 17 women, 125th of 420 starters overall, in a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, 12 seconds; age 39. First marathon, and a North American age record.

Notice that last bit? Told you she was good, didn’t I?

Mom still runs. Here she is in 2015, celebrating her 80th birthday with a mile on the track.

Why couldn’t I have inherited those legs???

So here’s to you, son. And you, Mom & Dad. And to all of y’all with more grit than me, doing what’s hard for whatever reason, because you want to test yourself, because it’s there, or just because a friend asked you to. Thanks for your example. Now, GO!!!

Return to Kiwiland, Final Installment: Why New Zealand? The Coast to Coast Triathlon

And finally…Reason #2 why I’m headed back to New Zealand after 20 years: for a triathlon.

Not to run. To observe. To take notes. The next novel I’m planning is set in New Zealand, and this triathlon plays a major role. Because this is no ordinary triathlon. This is the Coast to Coast.

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Kiwis take the phrase "cross-country" literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

Kiwis take the phrase “cross-country” literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

This race spans the skinniest part of the South Island, Kumara to Christchurch–243 kilometers (about 180 miles) of running, biking, and–no, not swimming–whitewater kayaking. Here’s the course:

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Oh, did I forget to mention it crosses a mountain pass?

Thanks to Kiwi friends, I’ve been invited to “pit crew” for a woman who’s doing the triathlon. I’m going to grab her bike or hold her wetsuit or whatever she needs, all while soaking up the sights and sounds and scents and trying not to make a pest of myself.

For years, the race was sponsored by a beer company. Now its sponsor is Kathmandu, an outdoor gear company that seems much better suited. But notice how little else I know about the Coast to Coast! I’m excited to learn how much more I have to learn.

Like...how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Like…how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Also thrilled that I don’t have to run/ride/paddle the damn thing myself. The elites take about 13 hours to finish. The woman whose crew I’m joining expects to take 15-16 hours.

Funny story:  when I first chatted with “my” triathlete, she asked, “So, this American athlete and her coach…will they be joining you as well?”

It took me a moment to process this. Then: “Oh, no! They’re fictional. I mean, they’re what the book’s going to be about. So, no, they won’t be coming with me.”

Except they will, of course. In my head. Assessing their fictional future.

So if you’re reading this–cheers! The next time you’ll hear from me will be in mid-February, when our Great Kiwi Re-adventure is behind us. Till then, keep reading and writing and running or whatever it is you do. Hug your family. Talk with a stranger. Be well.

 

 

Secret To a Happy Life: Choose Your Parents Wisely

Wish I could take credit for that idea. Wish I could take credit for my own blessed life. But I know better. There’s Providence, luck, fate–and then there are good role models and good genes. My mom gave me both.

Today (June 3) is her 80th birthday. 60 years ago this month she married my dad. I’m blessed to have both parents very vigorously in my life. But today is Mom’s day.

My mom is psyched to turn 80: a new age group for her to dominate in track! Here she is, just a few days ago, getting ready for the 80-and-up mile:

What I want to be when I grow up

What I want to be when I grow up

When she first married my dad back in 1955, Martha Smith was no athlete. The family joke is, she was probably in the worst shape of her life at age 20, and she looked terrific. Raising three kids, starting a farm and co-founding a school toughened her up, but then a new path opened. Some time in the late 1960s, my dad discovered distance running and immersed the whole family in it. And Martha Smith Klopfer discovered a hidden talent.

She was FAST. And tough. And competitive. At age 45, she held the national age group 10k record. But she also excelled at the marathon, with a personal best of 3:07. And she did all this with no team to support her, no coach but her husband, and a full-time job of raising teenagers, running a farm, and helping to guide the school she had helped to found.

Lest you imagine from her athletic creds that my mom’s a driven, Type-A personality–nothing could be further from the truth. More like “Type B…or, no, maybe C…but then again, B is nice, I could see B…” Time has always been a fluid substance for her. When I was in high school, the words, “I’m just going out to the barn for a few minutes,” spoken in late afternoon, became code for, “So someone else might want to think about fixing dinner if you want to eat before eight.”

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that my mom’s also a poet. A very good poet. Here’s one of my favorites, written about something that happened between her own mother and the Guatemalan gardener she practically adopted:

 

Little Bird

 

I think I washed the windows too clean.

The little bird saw straight

through the living room and right out

the other side to the sky.

He flew fast, like a pelota, hit the glass,

fell to the ground and was still.

A drop of blood came out near his long beak.

I picked him up. Pobrecito.

He weighed nothing and did not move.

I wish that I had left the window dirty.

 

But I want to do good work for Mrs. Smith.

She is kind to me, tells me to sweep the patio

or trim bushes, even when they don’t need it.

I don’t want her to see this dead bird.

It would make her sad.

Quickly, I get the garden trowel,

dig a small hole under the Pyracantha,

cover the bird with earth and leaves.

I wipe the window clean again.

 

Once my mother came to visit.

Mrs. Smith helped pay for the flight.

She practiced Spanish with my old sick mother,

both of them laughing.

Later, I could not go to Guatemala

to help bury my mother.

My father and brothers had been killed.

The same people also wanted

me in a shallow grave.

 

Mrs. Smith comes out of the house.

“Good job, Manuelito,” she says.

I say, thank you Mom.

She thinks I call her “Ma’am,”

but she is my California mom.

She has made tamale pie for lunch.

She says she likes to cook for me,

though she doesn’t cook much

since Mr. Smith died.

 

We sit down to eat at the patio table.

Something moves under the Pyracantha.

I jump to my feet.

“Look! It’s still alive!”

I tell her how the little bird hit the window,

how I thought it was dead and buried it.

I dig it up and brush it off and lay it in her hand.

 

The little bird blinks and ruffles its feathers.

Mrs. Smith says,

“He was only stunned.

I’ll keep him safe until he can fly again.”

I love that poem. But poetry’s not Mom’s only art. She’s also a weaver. Wish I had a picture of one of her weavings to share, but you’ll have to imagine the gentle interplay of color and shape inspired by natural scenes.

Then there’s Carolina Friends School, about which I’ve written before. Click here to read about how she helped to found North Carolina’s first integrated school.

All in all, my mom has given me a good dozen reasons to look at her as a role model; I’ve only mentioned the most obvious here. But chief among those is Mom As Athlete. I mean, look at those legs! Here she is, biking down a mountainside in Greece at the tender age of 78:

Wheee!

Wheee!

So, to sum up: Character: check. Talent: check. Athleticism: check. Oh, and terrific genes, ’cause did I mention HER mom lived to one hundred and three?

So, yeah. Can I pick a parent or what? Pretty proud of myself for that.

Now’s your chance to brag on your own mom or dad or Significant Elder in your life. I love when you share.

 

My Goddaughter the Triathlete: Why I Can’t Wait For the Fourth of July

Last year I wrote about my “godkid,” Allison Snow. My theme was the word itself, the concept. Today I want to write about Allison herself—or Al, as I call her. I’m busting with pride.

I first met Al when she was a student in my 10th grade Honors English class. She was a competent, but not a terrific writer; a careful, but neither avid nor outstandingly insightful reader. In short, I enjoyed her as a student, but would never have identified her as one of my faves. One snippet did catch my attention, however: she wrote her “Turning Point in my Life” essay about the death of her father when she was twelve. I did the math and realized that she was only fourteen, a full year younger than most of her peers.

The following year, I and five of my braver colleagues started a pilot “school-within-a-school” half-day program called International Business and Global Studies. Project-based, with a fully-integrated curriculum and student-centered learning (are you glazing over yet?), IBGS attracted students who were bored with traditional classrooms. To my surprise, Al signed up and became an IBGS star. I still remember Al’s semester presentation on Greece, which included artifacts from Tacoma’s Greek Festival, which she had attended, on a weekend.

Even more surprising, Al became a cheerleader. That serious young woman, shrieking “Card-inal Pow-er!”— really? Should’ve tipped me off: in her quiet way, Al made her own decisions about what course to pursue, regardless of expectation. Motivated. Purposeful.

Her own family learned this during Al’s senior year. I was on leave in New Zealand (let’s hear it for spouses with paid sabbatical!), and Al announced to her mom that she would like her graduation present early: a plane ticket. Then she got on the school’s office email (not having her own—remember those days?) and asked me for permission to come visit.

“A cheerleader?” my husband asked. “For ten days?” (Not that he was being judgmental or anything.) Little did he know that visit would turn into three weeks.

Al mtn.

Once Al arrived, she realized how ridiculously short her trip was for coming such a distance. In a super-long-distance call, she talked her mom into letting her change her return ticket. She used that time to explore most of the South Island with us, babysitting our young boys. By the time she left, she was family…

…except in one regard. Although fit, Al was never what I’d call an athlete. Yes, I KNOW cheerleaders have to be in good shape, but the mentality is different: they don’t train like competitive athletes do. Although The Mate and I had mostly retired from racing, we still considered our daily workout the same way we considered meals: essential. I don’t remember Al ever offering to go for a jog with me. Motivation and purpose didn’t seem to go there.

Fast-forward ten years: Al, now a young teacher (like me—I know, right?!) decides to try triathlon. The results: one and three-quarter hours. 167th in her age group. Proud of herself.

Aha. Motivated. Purposeful. Here’s what happened next:

In 2007 and ’08, more Triathlons. Her times come down. 2009, three of ‘em. 2010: four.

In 2012, Al becomes an Ironwoman, in a race that took 12 ¾ hours.

And in 2014?  Personal Best by thirty minutes in a half-Ironman. Thirty minutes! And last week: First place female.

Al winning

I’m leaving out a whole huge category of pride here, over Al’s career as a star elementary school teacher. Today I’m celebrating Al the Athlete, entirely self-created.

When I became a semi-elite runner, I had an athletic family pushing me, college coaches, a track club. Al has a coach now, and a team, but only because she went out there and got them, all on her own.

On July 4, I’m going to run our little island’s 5k Fun Run, the only “racing” I do these days. Al’s going to run it with me…and she’s going to kick my butt. And I can’t wait.

 

 

Fitness In Your Eighties: Keeping Up With My Parents

We just got back from vacation, and my husband and I are exhausted.

Not from the long flight back from Greece, although that took its toll. (I swear, jet lag should be declared an illegal drug: Just Say No.) We’re exhausted from trying to keep up with my parents.

It’s my own fault. This whole Cyclades Islands bike tour was my idea. “Let’s invite my parents,” I said. “We always have so much fun doing athletic things with them, and they won’t be able to do this kind of thing forever.” (Plus my mom is super laid-back and my dad grabs every check and pays for everything if you let him is super-generous.)

Mom

We are tired out from trying to keep up with Mom and Dad on all those hilly bike rides. Did I mention that my mom is 78 and my dad is 83?

They’ve always been terrific athletic role models, WAY ahead of their generation. My dad, a zoologist, got into distance running in the mid-1960s as the result of a near-death experience being chased down a beach by a bull elephant seal (at least the way he tells it, and hey, it’s his story, right?). My mom and my sisters got into running soon after. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I got into it in due time. (For more on this,  https://gretchenkwing.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/ill-put-a-gird…ok-maybe-years/

Mom became a running star almost immediately. Not that many women over 40 were running in the early 1970s, let alone racing, and mom was FAST. When she turned 45, she owned the national 10k record. Her picture graced the cover of WomenSports magazine in 1975–a journal that, sadly, did not survive into the 80s. Dad was never quite as competitive, relative to other men, since there were more of them. But he embraced each new age group eagerly, ready to face down his rivals.

P

Together, they dominated the roads of North Carolina, then branched out around the country, running marathons, 10ks, 5ks, plus one and two-milers on the track. They even attended the World Masters track championships. And they cleaned up annually at the Levi’s Ride and Tie, a crazy cross-country endurance race involving teams of 2 people plus a horse. (My sisters and I got free Levi’s all through high school thanks to their prizes. 🙂 )

These days they’ve slowed down–just a little. Mom’s had a tough time with soft-tissue injuries and spends more time biking, riding, and doing weights and pilates than running. Dad still runs a couple times a week, and usually bikes the six miles to his lab, but he’s considering buying an electric tricycle to help him get home when fatigue finally catches up to him.

As if!

Not only did fatigue not catch up to him on our bike trip, the rest of the tour members hardly could. My husband and I kept waiting for Mom or Dad to ride in the sag wagon that followed our bike tour. Never happened. They rode every hilly, windy kilometer.

Mom2

So I guess I just want to say Thanks. Thanks for being such great role models, not just for me and my sisters, but for everyone who sees you riding past, grey beard and grey braid flying in the wind. Thanks for showing the rest of us that a healthy old age may depend in part on good luck and good genes, but it DEFINITELY depends on hard work–work that doesn’t stop when the joints get creaky.

And yeah–thanks for the genes too.

P and M

How about you? Did you inherit any kind of fitness regimen from your parents, or were they your examples of how NOT to live? How do you find a way, in your super-busy lives, to model fitness for your children? Let us hear!